- Amid concerns that Turkey and Russia could be drawn into direct conflict in Syria, Turkish President Erdogan and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire.
- New tensions broke out last week between Turkey and the Syrian regime— which is backed by Russia— after the regime launched airstrikes that killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers. Turkey responded by launching a military offensive against the Syrian government.
- While the new offensive marks an increase in hostilities, the recent escalation has been ongoing since the Syrian regime tried to take over the last rebel holdout, displacing nearly one million refugees.
- Turkey, which believes the EU has not given it enough money to deal with the massive influx of refugees, retaliated by opening its border with Greece, which has created a separate problem in the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire in Syria Thursday amid recent escalations in the region.
Tensions between Turkey and Syria were heightened in December after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia, ramped up his military effort to take over the Idlib province. Idlib remains the last rebel stronghold in Syria.
The conflict reached a breaking point last week when the Syrian regime launched airstrikes that killed at least 33 Turkish troops, marking the worst military losses the Turkish army has seen in a single attack throughout the nine-year war in Syria.
Shortly after, Turkey launched a counteroffensive against the Syrian regime dubbed Operation Spring Shield.
Since then, violence has broken out all over Idlib. Turkey has launched airstrikes, ground offensives, and downed planes while Syrian forces have fought back.
Right now, it is unclear how many people on both sides have died due to difficulties assessing the situation on the ground and efforts by the Turkish government to censor independent media.
The conflict is incredibly significant as it represents the largest and most serious escalation of Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian war. In fact, some experts have even described it as a direct war between Turkey and the Syrian regime.
This is quite notable because the conflicts between Turkey and Syrian have largely been fought through and with proxies. The two rarely confront each other, which makes the stakes even higher.
Russia, NATO, and the Ceasefire
While the new ceasefire reached by the two leaders may alleviate the situation, many are still worried that the new outbreak of violence could risk drawing Russia into a direct war with Turkey.
While Russia has been backing Syria, they have denied all responsibility for the airstrikes that killed the Turkish troops and set the offensive in motion.
Turkey, for its part, has been very careful not to directly blame Russia for the airstrike and instead has fully placed the fault on the Syrian regime.
While that might not be entirely true, the situation is complicated. By not implicating Russia, Turkey may be able to deescalate the situation and leave the door open for diplomacy.
To that point, Turkey has also said its operation is not meant to confront Russia.
Russia, at least for now, has refrained from intervening, which does seem to indicate that it does not want to get drawn into a war with Turkey.
Still, if something were to happen, it could create a situation where Turkey could be in direct conflict with Russian and Iranian forces, which also back the Syrian regime.
That, in turn, could drag in more powers. Turkey is a NATO member, and as badly as NATO, Europe, the U.S., and other Turkish allies do not want to involved in a war against Russia, they might not have much of a choice if things get worse.
There is also a problem with putting too much faith in a ceasefire: it did not work before.
Russia and Turkey agreed to another ceasefire under the 2018 Sochi agreement, but that largely fell apart.
While the details of the current ceasefire are still being hashed out, it is unclear if the new agreement will be more effective or if it will ultimately have the same fate.
Refugees and Greece
There is also another problem that has come from the Syrian regime trying to gain power over Idlib— refugees.
Idlib is home to about three million people, many of whom are refugees who have been forced from other parts of Syria.
Since Dec. 1, nearly one million people have been displaced by the Syrian regime— the biggest single displacement since the war started.
Many of those civilians are women and children, and many are living in dangerous conditions, sleeping outside or in tents in below-freezing conditions.
When Erdogan announced that he was starting the offensive, he also said that he was opening Turkey’s borders with Greece to Syrian refugees.
Greece, which has already taken in 3.7 million refugees, condemned the move.
It accused Turkey of using the refugees as “pawns” to pressure the European Union (E.U.) into giving them more money for the refugee crisis or to support their goals in the Syrian war.
This has also been echoed by the E.U. Council, which said in a statement that it “expresses its solidarity with Greece” and “strongly rejects Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes.”
Over the last few days, the situation has escalated rapidly. Greek forces have prevented the refugees from entering, reportedly pushing them back into Turkey.
Turkey responded Wednesday by sending 1,000 police to the border to resist the pushback. The Turkish government also accused Greece of firing live rounds at the refugees, killing at least three.
Greece denied the claims, calling them “fake news.”
Meanwhile, the Greek government said their border forces had prevented nearly 35,000 people from entering over the past five days, and arrested 244. It also said it is preparing to deport hundreds of others who made it through.
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Axios) (Vox)
Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Florida Braces for Devastation
When it hits the sunshine state, Ian is expected to be a category 3 hurricane.
Ian Lands in Cuba
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba Tuesday morning as a major category 3 storm, battering the western parts of the country with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, and mudslides are expected. Officials said that around 50,000 people have been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to reports, flooding has damaged houses and tobacco crops in the region, and widespread power outages have also been reported.
As dangerous conditions continue in Cuba, Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and pass west of the Florida Keys later on Tuesday, becoming a category 4 before the end of the day.
Officials predict it will drop back to a category 3 before making landfall as a major hurricane in Florida, which it is expected to do Wednesday evening.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said that Ian is currently forecast to land “somewhere between Fort Meyers and Tampa.” She added that the storm is expected to slow down as it hits Flordia, extending the potential devastation.
Forecasts of Ian’s path, however, remain uncertain, leaving residents all over Florida scrambling to prepare for the storm.
Schools have closed down, airports have suspended operations, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has activated the National Guard and taken steps to ensure power outages can be remedied, warning that many should anticipate losing power.
There are also numerous storm and surge watches and warnings in place across Florida and in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
Evacuation warnings have been implemented throughout many parts of Florida, and officials have said that around 2.5 million people were under some kind of evacuation order by Tuesday afternoon.
Mandatory evacuations have been put in place in several counties, largely focused on coastal and low-lying areas. Some of those evacuation orders have extended to parts of Tampa — Florida’s third-largest city.
Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in over a century — a fact that just further emphasizes the unusual path this storm is taking.
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has a tool to track evacuation zones, as well as more resources at floridadisaster.org. For those looking for shelter, the Red Cross has a system to find one nearby.
The current evacuations are being driven by a number of very serious threats posed by Hurricane Ian. According to the NHC, hurricane-force winds, tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and flooding are expected throughout much of the region.
“Considerable” flooding is also expected in central Florida and predicted to extend into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.
One of the biggest threats this hurricane poses is storm surge flooding at the coast — which has been a driving factor in the evacuations.
“Life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning is in effect, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned Tuesday.
As many experts have pointed out, these dangerous threats of storm surges and catastrophic flooding have been drastically exacerbated by climate change. Specifically, sea level rise driven by climate change makes surges and flooding more likely and more extreme.
According to Axios, a profound example can be found in St. Petersburg, Florida — which is expected to be impacted by Ian — and where sea levels have risen by nearly nine inches since 1947.
That, however, is not only the real-time impact of climate change that is evident from this storm. In addition to climate change being “linked to an increase in rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes,” Axios also notes that Ian “has been rapidly intensifying over extremely warm sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean that are running above average for this time of year.”
“Climate change favors more instances of rapidly intensifying storms such as Hurricane Ian, due to the combination of warming seas and a warmer atmosphere that can carry additional amounts of water vapor,” the outlet added.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy
Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.
An Election Without Precedent
Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.
She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.
The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.
The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.
Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.
Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.
Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.
But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
The Next Mussolini?
During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.
“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”
Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.
She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.
“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.
For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.
But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.
But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.
In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.
Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (NPR)
Iranian Protests Sparked by Death of Mahsa Amini Spread Internationally
Anger initially directed at the police has now shifted to the Islamic regime itself, with Iranian-Americans protesting outside the U.N. Headquarters as their country’s president spoke inside.
Hijabs Go Up in Flames
The largest protest movement in recent years has gripped Iran since the so-called morality police allegedly beat 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for violating the dress code last week, leading to her later death.
Demonstrations spread from the capital Tehran to at least 80 other cities and towns, with videos on social media showing women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in defiance.
In response, the government has gradually extended a virtual internet blackout across the country, blocking access to What’s App and Instagram.
To prevent protests from spreading, Iran’s biggest telecom operator largely shut down mobile internet access again Thursday, Netblocks, a group that monitors internet access, said in a statement, describing the restrictions as the most severe since 2019.
Clashes between police and protestors have killed some, but death toll reports on Thursday were conflicted. The Associated Press tallied at least nine people dead, while Iran’s state television put the number at 17, and a human rights group estimated at least 31 deaths.
The violence began on Saturday, shortly after the news that Amini had died the day prior in the hospital where she was comatose for three days.
Previously, the morality police arrested her for violating Islamic law requiring women to cover their hair with a head scarf and wear long, loose-fitting clothing.
Multiple reports and eyewitness accounts claimed that officers beat her in the head with batons and banged her head against one of their vehicles, but authorities have denied harming her, saying she suffered a “sudden heart failure.” Her father told BBC that she was in good health and that he had not been allowed to view her autopsy report.
“My son was with her. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” he said.
Surveillance footage was released showing Amini collapsing inside the hospital after grabbing her head, seemingly in pain.
From Anti-Hijab to Anti-Regime
Although the protests began in reaction to Amini’s death and Iran’s repressive policing, they quickly flowered into a mass opposition movement against the Islamic regime as men joined ranks of demonstrators and chants of “Death to the dictator!” broke out.
The anger was directed at the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as President Ebrahim Raisi, who attended the United Nations General Assembly this week. Iranian-Americans rallied outside the U.N. Headquarters Wednesday to voice their discontent as Raisi addressed the assembly.
“The hijab is used as a weapon in Iran,” one woman told CBS in Los Angeles. “It is a weapon against the West, and women are used as pawns.”
“Let this be the George Flloyd moment of Iran,” she added.
There have also been demonstrations of solidarity in countries such as Lebanon, Germany, and Canada.